Panama City - Casco Viejo - UNESCO World Hertitage

Trip Start Dec 27, 2008
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Flag of Panama  ,
Monday, January 25, 2010

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Panama: Five Destinations in which to Spend the Winter Months


Panama City
Destination no. 1 of 5 (in no particular order)

Part 3 of 8
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Lobo's Real Time:
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February 7, 2010

 I am sitting in a $16.00 hotel room with WiFi in David, Panama. The New Orleans Saints have just won the Super Bowl. Costa Rica has elected its first female president – Laura Chinchilla. The Ukraine has elected Viktor Yanukovich as president, meaning closer ties with Russia.


February 8, 2010

Have taken a day off travel to catch up on my blogging and uploading of photos.

On the positive side, it has been a $10 day for food: $2.51 for breakfast (eggs, pancake and a large bowl of porridge); $2 for lunch (plate of vegetables and Greek salad); $3.25 for supper (chicken and vegetables) and a beer. These prices reflect a senior’s discount, which is the norm here in Panama.

.On the negative side, I appear to have left my little knapsack at the table where I had lunch. Missing are my notes from some great expat interviews in Valle de Anton and a map of Panama. Believe it or not, maps of this country are very hard to come by. I will have to work from the photos I took of the map.

I may stay another day. At these prices this town is hard to beat. Did I mention that beer can be had for 50 cents?

February 9-10
 I went back for a second time to the restaurant where I last saw my knapsack.  Again I received a negative response but lo and behold as I was sitting there having breakfast a waitress showed up with my knapsack –hallelujah!! I am back in business.


I then travelled to Bouquet for two days. It is Panama’s no. 1 destination for expats.  Had a great time with interesting interviews, great scenery and I learned a lot.

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January 27, 2010

This day started with a move from the Hotel Lopez to the Hotel Coast Azul, located on Calle 44 in Bella Vista (tel. 225-4703).

Originally, my hotel of first choice had been the Residencial Los Arcos, just 200 meters down the road (Avenida 3 Sur and Calle 44, tel. 225-0569), but when I discovered that the single rate of $27 given in the guidebook was in fact $44, the Hotel Costa Azul’s single rate of $35 became much more attractive. Admittedly, the Residencial Los Arcos is a better hotel but for me the Costa Azul served its purpose quite nicely.

So I am now living in the beautiful Bella Vista neighbourhood of Panama City.

A portion of Calle 44 is also called Bir Sinai, in recognition of the complex of synagogues, Jewish schools, etc. that are here. The Hotel Costa Azul was also the hotel of choice of several Orthodox visitors from Israel.

Now that the hotel situation has been taken care of, I was off to sightsee for the day.

If you have ever been to Quebec City, Old Montreal, St. Augustine in Florida, the French Quarter in New Orleans or Carcassone and St. Malo in France (I must stop because the list is endless in Europe), you know the thrill of visiting a part of a city that has been restored to its former glory of a bygone era.

Not only are these places aesthetically beautiful but they are a magnet for tourists who revel in the atmosphere and ambiance.

The "Casco Viejo" or old part of town is such a place in Panama City.

Logically one would think that this is the site of Panama City’s original founding in 1519, but that honour goes to Panama La Vieja (commonly called “Panama Viejo”), located just to the east of present day Panama City. That original city-site has not been restored and its extensive ruins can be visited. Its greatest claim to historical fame is that it was burned down by the Welsh pirate Henry Morgan in 1671.

Following that bad turn of events, the small peninsula at the southwest end of Panama Bay was deemed to be more defensible and was therefore chosen to become the second attempt at founding Panama City.  It is known as Casco Viejo and is located in the San Felipe district of Panama City. Both Panama La Vieja and Casco Viejo were declared UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1997.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panam%C3%A1_Viejo

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/790

http://www.enjoypanama.com/colonial_history.htm

Accompanying me on this visit was “local expert” Robert.  He is originally from Quebec City but has been living for extended periods in Panama City for the last four years. It was my good fortune that he was the second person I spoke to when I first arrived in Panama City a few days ago.

I freely admit that when I heard the words, “Hey, lets go visit the old part of town” I agreed to just tag along, not at all sure what I was about to see.   So I was somewhat surprised that not only is the Casco Viejo located here in San Felipe, but also the Presidential Palace, the current residence of President Martinelli. The palace situated overlooking the bay and its small contingent of guards gave it a fleeting resemblance to the principality of Monaco.

For a detailed description of the Casco Viejo:

http://www.time.com/time/travel/article/0,31542,1881676,00.html

After reading this article I will have to rent Quantum of Solace when I get back to Victoria.

I had a number of distinct impressions while walking around in this area.

If you suffer from claustrophobia, you may not be comfortable walking the narrow streets with overhanging balconies, but the beautiful squares and plaza provide a refreshing relief from those confined passages.

The beautifully renovated buildings offer a striking mix of Spanish and French colonial styles. However, Robert told me that, despite the extensive renovations, insurance is difficult to obtain for some buildings, especially those having balconies - which seemingly most of them do.

The restored buildings contrast starkly with those that have not been refurbished and whose exterior walls are quite ruin-like. The global economic downturn may well have had a hand in slowing the process of rebuilding and renewing.

The surprising warning that Casco Viejo may not be the safest place in Panama City was definitely a consideration in the choice of streets Robert decided to explore. More than once he altered our course by saying “let’s not go down there”. It bears noting that although it was broad daylight, there were very few people out and about.

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Lobo Flash ….I have come to the realization that….

It is surprising how few tourists are visible not only in the Casco Viejo but in Panama City. I make this statement with the proviso that I am speaking of the “visible minority” of tourists coming for the most part from North America and Europe. There probably are a fair number of tourists from neighbouring countries who would be less noticeable among the Latino population of Panama. Nevertheless tourism is only the 12
th source of income in Panama.

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Time does not permit the labelling of each of the photos of the Casco Viejo but the images alone tell the story of a very charming place.

A highlight at the end our visit to Casco Viejo was Luna’s Castle, which can only be described as quaint and rustic with lovely interior courts and a great view. It is a Backpacker’s Inn with dorms as well as private rooms.

It might be nice to find accommodations right in the Casco Viejo, but since it is not considered a safe area to go for a stroll in the evening and it is quite a cab ride into the city centre, it doesn’t quite suit a “mature” traveller like me.  But for intrepid young backpackers seeking adventure, it certainly appeared to be a great place to meet members of the opposite sex. From what I could see the selection was outstanding.

Be that as it may, it is now time to head back to the Hotel Costa Azul in beautiful Bella Vista.

Feedback: travelswithlobo@yahoo.com

Coming Soon: Panama City – The Fisherman’s Wharf


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